“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
At some point, everyone asks, “Do I really matter? Can I make a difference in the world?” The answer is YES, you do and you can!!
You’ve probably read the story about the boy walking along the beach while picking up starfish that had been stranded in the sand and tossing them back into the ocean. There were dozens of them everywhere. A man approached the boy and asked why he was doing this. Of course the boy said because they would die if he didn’t. “But you can never get all of them back in the water. You won’t make any difference at all.” Just then the boy picked up another starfish and skillfully tossed it back in the water. “It made a difference to that one,” he said.
But government is different, right? Nothing we do can possibly make a difference in how laws are passed. We send people to congress or the state house and lobbyists buy their votes. The common guy on the street can’t do one thing to influence that, can he?
I’ve been trying to be that person who made a difference for a few years now. I follow legislation at the state capitol, mostly bills that concern children, education, or the pro-life issue, but a few others will draw my attention at times. When bills are scheduled for a committee, I will often send the committee members a personal email asking for their vote. I’ve also called occasionally. If at all possible, I’ll schedule a short appointment with them. Of course, the legislators I focus on the most are my own representative and senator from my district. I make sure I have their votes.
This week I have had the opportunity to spend some time with several legislators. During lunch with one of my favorite lawmakers ever, I asked him, “What can change your mind on a bill? What influences you the most?” Understand that he is one of hundreds of legislators who see well over 1000 bills every year. How can he possibly make an informed decision on all of these?
Below is a paraphrase of his response:
I have a hierarchy. First, if it is an issue that is not covered in my core philosophy (such as abortion, pro-business, pro-gun), then I absolutely need to hear from people. I will always come down on the side of life, business, the 2nd Amendment, and other core value issues, regardless of what anyone else says. I stick to those and never waiver.
But most bills don’t fit there. Unfortunately, that’s when I get the ‘form emails.’ I ignore all of them! If I get 100 standardized form emails, I have to assume that the people who sent them don’t know enough about the issue to have a conversation. As a matter of fact, sometimes when I get that many form emails, I’ll vote the opposite direction just because I figure some group with more money than sense set up the form emails.
Next up the scale, and way above that form email level, is a personal email with a personal message. It goes over better to me if they are a constituent, but I do at least pay attention to these, especially if it is someone I’ve dealt with in the past. A personal email means that someone who is well familiar with the issue and has done their homework took the time to write it. I pay attention to those. I place these emails on the same level as I do a personal call. But make sure you leave your name and phone number. I may call you back.
Then comes a personal letter. For someone to write or type a letter and drop it in the mail means that they are not only informed on the bill, but they are passionate about the matter, too. Passionate enough that they would take the time to draft the letter, print it out, put a stamp on it and mail it. That means a lot to me when I make decisions.
At the very top of the list is a personal visit. People who do this have often had to take a day off of work to come see me. It must be something really important for them to do this. If I get a thousand form emails and only one constituent comes to my office to ask me to vote against the emailers, I’ll vote for the one person’s side every time. These are the people who come to me and can tell me first-hand how the bill will help or hurt their situation.
Does one person make a difference? For that legislator he does.
So the next time you hear about a bill of importance to you, please don’t sit and wait for someone else to do what you should do. If it’s really important to you, then explain why in an email or letter, set up a phone meeting, or go meet with the legislator personally. You don’t have to take your entire neighborhood with you, but you do have to do something.